Apparently, some Y2K consultant has made a mint by advising video-game companies that the only way to survive the new millennium... is to make a snowboarding game. How else can anyone explain why every game maker (and its respective mother) has flooded the market with variants on this extreme sport?
Whether the video-game market needs more snowboarding titles is up for debate. Regardless, Capcom has joined the fray with Trick'n Snowboarder, an arcade-style speed-and-tricks reflex tester that's high on playability - if low on originality. Although pessimists may accuse Capcom of milking the proverbial "cash cow," there's no denying that Trick'n Snowboarder looks flashy, plays smooth, and makes for an engaging - if a bit too easy alpine experience.
The game sticks to the standard recipe for snowboarding titles: wild downhill courses with tons of jump-off points and occasional obstacles; different modes such as alpine, half-pipe, and single-jump competitions; and marginal extras like replay saves and player/title logo-edit functions.
The game's main strengths are its well-designed tracks and gameplay flexibility - especially for two-player vs. matches. TNS starts with 14 tracks set in locations from Russia to Italy, each well rendered and providing neat little graphical details (the best: a dog chasing after a boarder in the Japan level). The two-player mode augments those tracks with a wealth of options. Notably, you can compete on horizontal or vertical split screens or via link cable. Plus, you can compete for most trick points, race for speed, or do a combination of both. This customization works smoothly and makes for an easy-to-use "party" game.
For single players, the game has a scenario mode that walks you through a bare-bones storyline with trick requirements for each level. Between levels, secret characters pop up for extra vs. player battles, which spices things up a bit. Beating the scenario mode unlocks additional secret players, which adds marginal playability to the game.
From a control standpoint, the game keeps things simple. While the top shift buttons turn the board left or right, three other buttons jump, grab the board, and flip the boarder while in midair. This makes for highly fluid control, making the game very easy to play while giving it an accurate feel. At no point does the gameplay feel mechanical, which is a great plus.
In terms of presentation, the game follows a slick MTV-style formula with surprising success. The gist of the gameplay is that the boarders are filming video of awesome tricks. The camera angles come from helicopters capturing your every move. The graphics hold up well under this setup, with the only glitches being occasional polygon dropping in the foreground as boarders whiz past objects (this flaw is a bit more pronounced in the two-player mode). However, it's not enough to hamper gameplay, and more importantly, the frame rate never slows down. The well-integrated sound effects, mostly of the boarder on snow and the chatter from the helicopters ahead, add a bit of an adrenaline rush - although the extra noise may annoy some gamers.
Despite the praise for its gameplay and graphics, the game has one built-in flaw: Because it's so easy to play, it's also really simple to beat. While this doesn't detract from the two-player mode, it makes the one-player scenario mode awfully easy to run through in one night. Although there's incentive to unlock additional hidden characters - including some of the cast members from Capcom's Resident Evil game - by beating this mode repeatedly with higher scores, the storyline remains unchanged, making it less appealing to play over and over again. While some may enjoy replaying these same levels to master new tricks, others might find the one-player experience too shallow to sustain their interest. Altered storylines for different characters would have improved that problem somewhat. Another minor flaw in the scenario mode is that you can't decide how to allocate skill points as a boarder improves between levels - the computer chooses.
So while Trick'n Snowboarder may not pack enough original mojo to rise far above other well-known titles in its genre, it plays fast and looks good. Although it might be a bit on the shallow side for one-player action, it's great for two-player battles, thanks to a wide selection of courses and fluid gameplay. Overall, this title holds its own against competitors and should suit most casual snowboarding fans fine.